What is cell biology?

Definition of cell biology

The biological science which deals with the study of structure, function, molecular organization, growth, reproduction, and genetics of the cells, is called cytology or cell biology. Much of cell biology is devoted to the study of structures and functions of specialized cells.

The results of these studies are used to formulate the generalization applied to almost all cells as well as to provide the basic understanding of how a particular cell type carries out its specific functions. The cell biologist, without losing sight of the cell as a morphologic and functional unit within the organism, has to study biological phenomena at all levels of organization and to use all the methods, techniques and concepts of other sciences.

Cytology versus Cell Biology

The cell biology has been studied by the following three avenues: classical cytology dealt with the only light microscopically visible structure of the cell; cell physiology studied biochemistry, biophysics, and functions of the cell; and cell biology interpreted the cell in terms of molecules (macromolecules such as nucleic acids and proteins).

In recent years distinction between classical cytology, cell physiology, and cell biology has become blurred and outmoded, and now two terms—cytology and cell biology are used as the synonyms.

History of Cell biology

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle (384 —322 B.C.) and Paracelsus concluded that “all animals and plants, however, complicated, are constituted of a few elements which are repeated in each of them.”

They were referring to the macroscopic structures of an organism such as roots, leaves and flowers common to different plants, or segments and organs that are repeated in the animal kingdom. Many centuries later, owing to the invention of magnifying lenses, the world of microscopic dimensions was discovered.

Da Vinci (1485) recommended the uses of lenses in viewing small objects. In 1558, Swiss biologist, Conrad Gesner (1516—1565) published results of his studies on the structure of a group of protists called foraminifera. His sketches of these protozoa included so many details that they could only have been made if he had used some form of magnifying lenses. Perhaps this is earliest recorded use of a magnifying instrument in a biological study.

Further growth and development of cell biology are intimately associated with the development of optical lenses and to the combination of these lenses in the construction of the compound microscopes. Thus, the invention of the microscope and its gradual improvement went hand-in-hand with the development of cell biology.